Inquiry-Based Learning


Grounded in constructivism, inquiry-based learning is a broader term for hands-on, active learning that is driven by inquiry. Learners process concepts through scenarios, questions, or issues that enable them to self-direct their own learning. There are four commonly-referenced levels of inquiry used in inquiry-based education (Wikipedia, 2018):  

  1. Confirmation Inquiry – An educator provides a problem and the procedure for learners to address it, where results are already known. 
  2. Structured Inquiry – An educator provides a problem and the procedure for learners to address it, where the results are not already known. 
  3. Guided Inquiry – An educator provides a problem, allowing learners to select a procedure to address it, where the results are not already known. 
  4. Open/True Inquiry – Learners select the problem and the procedure to address it, where the results are not already known. 
Related to inquiry-based learning, there are a few techniques distinguished by specific characteristics: 

  • Case-based learning (CBL). CBL utilizes cases or scenarios common in the respective field. Learners work in groups to use and apply knowledge and solve or diagnose problems.   
  • Project-based and Problem-based (PBL). These two PBL models share the same acronym but differ in methodology. Although both can be used interchangeably, they are intended for very different results. In project-based learning, learners work in groups or individually on a process that results in a product, presentation, or performance (Moursand, 2006). In contrast, problem-based learning is most successful in a group or collaborative setting to solve a complex, open-ended, real-world issue or problem (David, 2014; Husain, 2011). 
  • Discovery-based learning (DBL).  DBL is a specific type of active learning strategy that allows for learners to have hands-on opportunities that focus on the process of learning through inquiry and the exploration of concepts. Failure and feedback are both important and necessary for learning to occur. Discovery learning is characterized by three main attributes:  
    1. Using exploration and problem-solving to create, integrate, and generalize knowledge  
    2. Using learner-driven, interest-based activities where learners determine sequence and frequency  
    3. Involving activities to encourage integration of new knowledge into learner’s existing knowledge (Bicknell-Holmes & Hoffman, 2000, as cited in Castronova, 2002, p. 3).  


Case-Based Learning: 

EDUCAUSE. (2017). Interactive case scenarios: The 7Cs framework. Retrieved from

Harvard Business Publishing Education (2018). Case studies. Retrieved from  

National Science Foundation. (1999-2018). National center for case study teaching in science. Retrieved from  

Planning for Case-Based Learning. (n.d.) Retrieved from 

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. (2018). Improving use of case studies. Retrieved from 

Problem-Based Learning: 

25 Creative ways to incorporate more project-based learning in the classroom [blog]. Retrieved from 

University of Delaware. (n.d.). PBL clearinghouse. Retrieved from  

Project-Based Learning: 

Miami Dade College. (2018). Project/problem based learning (PBL) educator’s resource: Project-based learning resources. Retrieved from 

Sam Houston State University. (n.d.). Project-based learning in higher education. Retrieved from 

Discovery-Based Learning: 

The Geological Society of America. (2018). Inquiry and discovery-based projects within introductory courses. Retrieved from 


  • To see what events we may be offering related to inquiry-based learning, check out our CIS Events Page
  • Schedule a time with CIS staff to discuss trying inquiry-based learning in your class. 


Castronova, J., (2002). Discovery learning for the 21st century: What is it and how does it compare to traditional learning in effectiveness in the 21st century? Literature Reviews, Action Research Exchange (ARE), 1(2). Retrieved from

David, L.  (2014).Problem-based learning (PBL), in Learning Theories. Retrieved from  

Husain, A. (2011). Problem-based learning: A current model of education. Oman Med, 25(4). 295. DOI: 100.500/omj/2011.74 

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, May 31). Inquiry-based learning. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:58, July 27, 2018, from